Attachment and Parental Divorce: A Test of the Diffusion and Sensitive Period Hypotheses

R. Chris Fraley, Marie E. Heffernan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


One of the assumptions of attachment theory is that disruptions in parental relationships are prospectively related to insecure attachment patterns in adulthood. The majority of research that has evaluated this hypothesis, however, has been based on retrospective reports of the quality of relationships with parents-research that is subject to retrospective biases. In the present research, the authors examined the impact of parental divorce-an event that can be assessed relatively objectively-on attachment patterns in adulthood across two samples. The data indicate that parental divorce has selective rather than diffuse implications for insecure attachment. Namely, parental divorce was more strongly related to insecure relationships with parents in adulthood than insecure relationships with romantic partners or friends. In addition, parental insecurity was most pronounced when parental divorce took place in early childhood. This finding is consistent with hypotheses about sensitive periods in attachment development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1199-1213
Number of pages15
JournalPersonality and Social Psychology Bulletin
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2013


  • adult attachment
  • attachment styles
  • close relationships
  • parental divorce
  • sensitive periods

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology


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